Legislators tackle traffic safety issues

Rebecca Boyle, (Bio) March 4, 2007

DENVER -- Your friendly state legislators want to make sure you and your kids are safe.

Safe from tanning beds, head injuries, car crashes and distracted drivers.

Various bills during this legislative session tackle all those issues, and two controversial bills regarding motorists passed the House and Senate last week.

Last Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 151, which makes it a primary offense for a driver, a front-seat passenger and any small children not to wear a seat belt.

That means a police officer could pull someone over simply for not wearing a seat belt. Currently, you can be cited for not wearing a seat belt only if you are pulled over for some other reason.

On Wednesday, the Colorado House passed House Bill 1117, a bill that requires children under age 18 to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, on a 39-26 vote.

The two chambers will swap the measures this week. Seat belt legislation has surfaced in past legislative sessions.

Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner is one Weld resident who thinks both measures are good for public safety. He has been working toward a primary seat belt law for three years.

"We've got an awful lot of laws already, and I'm not in favor of any new laws unless they can accomplish something specific," he said. "And I think this primary seat belt law does."

He said it's simple -- seat belts save lives.

"It literally will save people's lives, it will reduce medical costs, and selfishly, it's probably going to reduce my insurance costs," he said.

Health insurance rates are so high in part because of people who need treatment but don't have coverage.

"People get their face smashed through the windshield where they wouldn't have if they were wearing a seat belt," Garner said. "I'm just tired of paying people's medical bills."

One major argument against such a law is that it will cause racial profiling by giving cops an excuse to pull over people of color.

But bill sponsor Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, who is black, told the Associated Press he's more worried about people dying in car accidents than he is about racial profiling.

Garner says if cops really wanted to profile -- which the law prohibits them from doing -- they can do it with other laws.

"There is a whole huge, great book of traffic violations already. You don't need a seat belt law to stop people ," he said.

The chief also supports a measure that would require motorcyclists younger than 18 to wear a helmet.

Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, on Tuesday brought his own motorcycle helmet to the House well, where representatives speak from the podium. He said he only wears the helmet because his wife makes him, and it only protects him at speeds of 12 to 15 miles per hour.

"I believe this creates a false sense of security" for parents, he cautioned.

Garner said it's a matter of common sense.

"I think common sense will tell you it's not going to remove all danger," he said. "If you're in a high-speed accident, a helmet is not going to make any difference. But some of your motorcycle accidents are not at higher speeds, and at lower speeds, it could make a difference whether you live or die or live with a permanent brain injury, if you had the helmet on."

He added it could be habit-forming for kids, in a good way.

"You never can tell -- somebody who gets in the habit of wearing one as a young person may continue to wear it as they get older," Garner said.

House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, said that's her hope. Her family owns several motorcycles -- and several helmets. Her kids put one on every time they ride, she said Tuesday.

Soon, they might have to whether mom says so or not.